Wow... Great question, but the answers will be sooo different for every family. I can tell you what has helped us, though. We have a house worker and trusted Christian friend. She helps me to understand the culture and the people. We talk openly about each other's cultures and differences. That has helped me to identify some of my cultural "arrogance" so that I can learn to appreciate why they may do things differently. I have also had to keep a tight rein on being negative about this culture. Forcing myself to think on the positive aspects instead of the negative has taken the grace of God working in my heart... Um... DAILY! Truly, a thankful heart has helped our family deal with adjusting more than anything else. Knowing when we have reached our limit (aka culture stress) helps. We know to unplug from it for a day or two to refocus. Staying around the people and getting to know a handful really, really closely has helped. When you love them, it is easier to adjust, respect, and appreciate them. Some of it just comes with time. Seeking counsel from veterans here has been priceless! I have learned to be myself... The people know I am American. They know I don't know everything about their culture, but they love that I WANT to learn. They love that I ask questions and show respect to their culture. Most of them even respect when we must draw boundaries when their culture is unbiblical. We have also learned to laugh at ourselves... And we get lots of practice here with that!
It's important to do several things. The first is to ask lots of questions, especially of any missionaries already there. (They will understand why you're asking.) Find out why and how and how best and what ingredients. The next is observe. Use your eyes, ears, and taste. (Don't use your sense of smell!) See what the people do, listen to how they communicate with each other, watch how they do things at a market, taste the food and find out how it's made. The next thing is patience. Give yourself time to learn and adapt. (You must have the will to adapt to THEM, not teach them your home country's ways.) I would say that in five to ten years you will feel at home. :o)
Ooh, tough question, but I'll give it a quick shot. :) I do think much of it comes in time. But for some more immediate tips--really do ask questions of other missionaries already there and be teachable from them. It's sad when new missionaries come over so independent that they "can't be helped," and they end up quitting. Also, realize that you might go through a time when you will be really down on the culture. Try to be grateful for the things you have, instead of focusing on what you lack; and try to remember that not EVERYTHING is bad about that culture. Anyway, let the negatives remind you of why you're there--to give them the Gospel. Be self-deprecatory. Tell people, "Sorry, can you speak slowly? My brain is so slow I didn't get that!" Ask questions about how they do things. People usually love to talk about themselves and "their way." Also realize that there will be sinful elements in their culture that you cannot adapt to, but you must have discretion in which items those are, and which are coming from an American bias.
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